Dealing with disappointment can be a challenge. Recently my sister sent me a gift for my birthday—a fountain that was perfect for my office. I got batteries, filled the reservoir with water, and hit the switch. In anticipation, I waited for cascading water to dance over the river rocks. And waited. And waited some more.
But not a sputter or gurgle came out. Nada.
After shaking, cajoling, adjusting the water levels, I had to admit the inevitable—this fountain was defective. In that moment, I felt real disappointment. The fountain didn’t cascade, but my mind cascaded with several anxious thoughts:
“Where do I find this store in Portland?”
“What if they don’t let me return the fountain?”
“I’m very busy—I don’t have time to drive there and twiddle my thumbs in the customer return line.”
I noticed these thoughts in the moment, surprised by how quickly they bubbled up from my mind. In that moment, I consciously countered these thoughts with soothing thoughts like: “I’m sure they have a return policy—and I have the receipt.” “I could enjoy a trip out of the office on a nice day like today.”
As you may imagine, my disappointment over the faulty fountain didn’t last very long. Of course, this is easier to do when it’s an inanimate object like a fountain that is doing the disappointment. A fountain can’t reject you. It can’t criticize you unfairly. It can’t judge you in any way.
How to Handle Disappointment
Disappointment is a natural feeling. And there will ALWAYS be some disappointment in life…
Fortunately, there is one important thing that you can do for yourself to overcome disappointment, which is not to take it personally.
Here’s how: When a disappointment comes, start noticing the thoughts you have about the disappointment.
Just noticing the thoughts and feelings can open the space for you to counter them with more soothing thoughts.
This practice alone can be as soothing and calming as the sound of a burbling brook. …By the way, they didn’t have the fountain in stock, so I got an appliance my wife wanted instead, and everyone was happy.
Donald Altman, M.A., LPC, is a practicing psychotherapist, former Buddhist monk, Emmy-Award-winning writer, and board member of The Center for Mindful Eating. His new book is The Mindfulness Code: Keys for Overcoming Stress, Anxiety, Fear, and Unhappiness.